L.A. and Ray Save the Day
It had the look of another one of those games. Fight hard, hang close, get a bad break on a call, give up a huge bucket, fail to answer, and walk out of the arena thinking about what might have been. But, this time, it was different. There was a controversial call, that much held true, but this time the Blazers got the big rebounds, played solid defense, and yes, hit the big shot.
Back on February 11th, in Dallas, the Trail Blazers took the defending champs to double overtime. They had their chances in that game too. In fact, Jamal Crawford had a long shot that would have won the game at the end of the first overtime. That one didn’t go.
Tonight, LaMarcus Aldridge, playing in front of family, friends, his mother, and his young son, LaMarcus Jr., hit perhaps the biggest shot of his still-young career. It was a buzzer-beating, game-winning shot, in a hostile environment. For an NBA player, it doesn’t get any better than that. The fact that it happened in his home town, made the story that much sweeter.
But, for as much as LaMarcus is deserving of the “hero” title in this game, and he is, it’s a shared honor on this night. That’s because Raymond Felton was as good as we’ve ever seen Raymond Felton. He kept the Blazers in this game, single-handedly at times, and brought his team back from 15 points down. He played great defense, he rebounded, he distributed, and he hit shot after shot after shot.
Felton, who’s undoubtedly playing his best basketball of the season right now, would really be on a roll if it hadn’t been for the way the Utah game ended on Monday night. But, the fact that he put that behind him so quickly, had a solid game against New Jersey on Wednesday, and then came through in flying colors in this night, shows at the very least he’s resilient.
Ray’s stat line on this night surprised everyone but Ray. He ended with a season-high 30 points, hit 12 of his 18 shots (including 5 for 8 from three), grabbed 7 rebounds, dished out 6 assists, and turned the ball over only twice. In a memorable third quarter, Felton had 12 of Portland’s last 14 points of the quarter, as the Blazers ended the quarter on a 20-3 run and carried a 74-66 lead into the final 12 minutes.
Dallas then, desperately needing this game, came out firing in the fourth. They had just watched the Blazers score the final 16 points of the third quarter, and quickly reeled off the first 11 points of the fourth to claim a 77-75 lead. That run took place with Felton on the bench. When he returned to the game, he quickly restored order and put the Blazers back on top. Then, it was time for a furious finish.
Both teams had opportunities to win the game in regulation, and when it was sent to overtime the Trail Blazers realized that to win, they’d have to do something they hadn’t done this season. They came into this game 0-3 in games decided by overtime, and were 4-12 in games decided by 5 points or less. But, the memories of all of the heartbreaking losses didn’t seem to bother them on this night.
Following a Shawn Marion basket that tied the game at 97 in the second overtime, the Trail Blazers took possession and Dallas used it’s foul to disrupt Portland’s final play. The Blazers took the ball out with 3.7 seconds left- not much time to set for a final look. It didn’t turn out to be a complicated play. LaMarcus Aldridge received the inbounds pass, took his time, used his patented turn-and-fade shot and drilled the game winner as the final horn sounded.
“I wasn’t in a hurry, that was the key,” Aldridge told me on the team plane before we left Dallas. “I didn’t want there to be any time left on the clock. I knew how much time we had, and I didn’t want to give them a chance to win it. I was either going to hit the shot, or we were going to a second overtime. That was it.”
A second overtime wasn’t necessary.
Dallas isn’t one of Portland’s main rivals in the Western Conference, but wow, have these teams played some great games the last few seasons. And, they’ll meet again at the Rose Garden next week.
Now, we’re headed for Milwaukee, and the players are buzzing about continuing this effort to build momentum as the end of the season quickly approaches.
One other thing should be pointed out. This was a big win for interim coach Kaleb Canales. Aldridge wasn’t the only one with family members in the stands. Canales, who grew up in Texas, had a stack of tickets ready before the game. As special as it was to win this in front of so many people close to him, he’s now 7-6 as the head coach, with wins at Chicago and Dallas. If his hat is seriously going to be tossed into the ring to be the permanent head coach of this team, a win like this doesn’t hurt his chances.
As we’ve said on many occasions, there isn’t much margin for error left for the Trail Blazers, if they want to achieve their goal of rallying to make the playoffs. As Canales always says, they’ll enjoy this until 12:01, and then start thinking about the Milwaukee Bucks.